“The Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Liberty Counsel will face off next month in federal court over the nativity display installed at Green Bay City Hall last Christmas season. Oral arguments are to begin at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 15 before federal Judge William Griesbach at the federal court building, 125 S. Jefferson St., Green Bay. The Freedom From Religion Foundation and 14 area residents are suing the city of Green Bay, Mayor Jim Schmitt and former City Council President Chad Fradette over the display. With the suit, filed at the end of last year, the foundation seeks a court order forbidding the city from installing a religious display on public property, whatever further relief the court deems fair, and costs and attorney fees for the action.”
To briefly sum up the story, the Green Bay City Council decided to put up a Nativity display on top of the city hall building after the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation threatened a smaller Wisconsin town to take their Nativity scene down (they did). In an attempt to protect themselves from litigation, Mayor Jim Schmitt announced that any religious group that wanted to place their own display next to the Nativity could do so. That’s where the Wiccans come in.
Green Bay employee installing a Wiccan wreath.
“A Wiccan symbol now stands alongside the Christmas manger scene above Green Bay City Hall’s northwest entrance. The new display is an evergreen wreath, about 3 feet in diameter, around a five-pointed star. It’s called a pentacle, and it is a symbol in the Wiccan religion, which is associated with witchcraft. Wicca is a nature-based religion based on respect for the earth, nature and the cycle of the seasons.”
The Pentacle wreath was donated by Wisconsin-based Circle Sanctuary, but no sooner had the Pagan display gone up, when it was vandalized in the night. The wreath only sustained minor damage, but instead of replacing it, Mayor Jim Schmidt decided that only the Nativity could stay up (he also claimed he had no idea the wreath was donated by Pagan Witches), and no other religious displays would be allowed until they could “develop a set of guidelines”. Discussion of new guidelines wasn’t given a date, and the Nativity stayed up alone until December 26th. City Council President Chad Fradette was obviously spoiling for a legal showdown.
“After the vote, Fradette declared, “I’m trying to take this fight to the people who need to be fought. I’ll keep going on this until this group imposing Madison values crawls back into its hole and never crawls out.” Fradette also warned that he would reach out to the Alliance Defense Fund and the Liberty Counsel for legal assistance in helping him defend the display.”
Well the “Green Bay values” versus “Madison values” battle royal is finally here, with the Religious Right organization the Liberty Council representing the city of Green Bay. Will the case be dismissed? Will Green Bay be forced to keep it secular this Winter? Stay tuned for further developments. I may even decide to drive down from Milwaukee and see this clash of the titans for myself!